To mark the new leadership under President Yoon Suk-yeol, his government has recalibrated the Republic of Korea’s diplomatic compass. The ROK made a dual announcement that would enhance the country’s regional and international profile as never before. At the 55th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh, Foreign Minister Park Jin revealed that the ROK intended to become a comprehensive strategic partner (CSP) of ASEAN, with the official application being made at the upcoming 23rd ASEAN-ROK summit in November. The bold move came as ASEAN is scheduled to announce the establishment of the CSP of the United States and India. It also augurs well for ROK-ASEAN ties, with the country commemorating the 35th anniversary of its diplomatic relations with ASEAN in 2024.
The ROK’s quest for CSP status follows the same diplomatic trajectory laid out earlier by Yoon, who is eager to elevate his country’s status as a Global Pivotal State (GPS) commensurate with its economic power as the world’s tenth biggest economy. To attain these two statuses, which are interlinked, the ROK would need to pursue external policies in the coming months and years in ways that align with regional priorities and international objectives. In the growing interconnected world, the ROK would need further support from allies and friends to help convince the global community that the country’s diplomatic agency is no longer a passive bystander or a one-issue country focusing on the Korean Peninsula as previously perceived. With the present worldwide popularity of Hallyu, which refers to all things Korean such as pop songs, drama series, food, and cosmetics among others, the ROK can also hope that together with the K-related cultural phenomenon, its pro-active diplomacy along with its global cultural appeal could further transform into weighty soft power for a new Korea in the post-pandemic world.
The Yoon administration’s advocacy for the liberal values and norms supporting freedom, peace, and rule-of-law will therefore be tested first and foremost within the region, which still has distinctive political systems and governances. While Seoul is pursuing high-end diplomacy, it has to be open-minded and resilient enough to understand local conditions that might run counter to the Korean diplomatic tenets. Given the current fluid geopolitical landscape, there should not be a cap lock of any diplomatic move that would enhance trust and closer cooperation.
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